If you answered that all were disasters, you get partial credit. But to make the grade in a business school classroom -- and in your own decision making -- you need to understand something else about these failure exemplars: dissenting voices did not stand up to power.
We make the best decisions after hearing and understanding opposing views. Even unpopular views. Even views that don't agree with yours. The problem is that most of us are hardwired to not rock the boat. In an organizational setting, speaking up can get you beaten down.
But the sounds of silence can be tragic, according to Harvard Business School professors interviewed in a recent article in the HBS alumni magazine. Even though some NASA engineers believed differently, they were reluctant to challenge long-held beliefs that foam strikes posed no risk to the shuttle. Death claimed the lives of several climbers on Mt. Everest after junior team members didn't speak up against their expert leaders who were ignoring their own safety principles.
"If you want good decision-making, contention is essential," says Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic, who now teaches at HBS.
How? Start by rewarding candor and designing incentives to encourage opposing viewpoints. In decision meetings, actively encourage opposing views and play devil's advocate. "Hey Bill, there's a $20 gift certificate in it for you if you tell me why I'm an idiot."
For those of you who turtle at work, read advice from HBS professor Amy Edmondson: Do I Dare Say Something?
Have you been rewarded or rebuffed for speaking up at work? Have you made better decisions by encouraging dissent? Share your your experiences.